List View-Remember What Drives Our Business (1,058 words)
By ED BOCKNIK
The popularity of many things in everyday life is quite cyclical. Bellbottoms, white wine, mini-skirts, neutral colors and so on … fads and styles are sometimes hot, sometimes they're not. Hot topics come and go in business too, particularly in our direct marketing industry, with issues such as regression analysis, high list prices and strategic partnerships. Lately, the terrible plight of the list broker and list manager is all the rage … more on that shortly.
Regardless of what's in or what's out, it's imperative that everyone involved in any phase of direct marketing remember what's most important: the success of the mailer. Sure, that sounds so basic, so fundamental, so obvious. Tell me then, why do some of us forget it all too frequently, or worse yet, why do some of us choose to ignore it altogether?
I mentioned the current fad involving brokers and managers. Articles abound and convention conversations are chock full of tales of woe. Brokers are working harder than ever before, managers spend too much time reporting to list owners, both are caught up with seemingly endless negotiations, and e-commerce has complicated our lives. We have it so tough that a new industry has seemingly popped up overnight to make our lives easier, that of companies developing universal list research and fulfillment systems (whether such initiatives are truly helpful remains to be seen).
Of course, our jobs as vendors are not always easy, but remember … brokers and managers, and you, too—printers, service bureaus, consultants, and the trade press—we are all members of the supporting cast. There is only one player in a leading role, only one star, only one engine that truly runs our industry: the mailer.
Here's another way to look at it. Every mailer is our client. Sure, brokers work with specific mailers, managers exclusively represent the files of specific mailers/owners, etc., but in actuality, we need to be concerned with the well-being of all mailers. Healthy mailers make for a healthy industry and in the long-run, we all prosper.
How to Stay Focused on the Mailer
So what can we do to insure the success of our mailer clients?
For starters, we stop looking at price negotiations as a competition, where we do everything possible to come out the winner. For instance, I suspect that the majority of managers believe they have out-negotiated the broker if they refuse to budge on a price or net-name deal … and they still get an order. However, how many more names would the mailer have taken if some sort of concession was made? How more apt would the mailer and broker be to test the file for a new offer? How much more list income would you make for your list owner if you truly considered the mailer your client too?
And brokers, when your mailer truly needs a better deal, don't be so protective of documentation that proves your case. We're talking about merge/purge reports and cost-per-acquisition tables, not top secret government information. Unfortunately, too many brokers ask for deals which appear totally unwarranted, bringing about the need for such proof. If you have it and it helps prove your case, share it.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that being client sensitive just means to be aggressive with making deals. In fact, very often, mailers should pay top dollar for their core files. I actually believe that many list managers perform a disservice to their list owners by pricing their files what they would call "competitively" (i.e, right around the average of comparable files on the market). However, there's nothing wrong with setting data card prices at premium levels—the prices core users can and should pay—and then allowing deep discounts for secondary markets and being willing to negotiate when needed.
Earlier, I mentioned that a broker's willingness to share data can really help the mailer. How about we all agree to be more candid, more diligent and generally more conscientious on behalf of the mailer. For instance, often managers need to "slice and dice" files to find segments which will work—be willing to go beyond SIC and employee size or dollar amount and product purchased. Don't settle for what the profile says; continually work with your list owner in the area of selection development.
In addition, be absolutely certain to convey significant changes in file make-up to brokers and mailers. In recent years, we've seen drastic shifts in the source of many response lists: more Internet-generated lists, fewer sweepstakes names, the growing impact of New Sub Services on the subscription list market, and so on. It's imperative for managers and brokers alike to keep mailers informed of such changes.
Along the same lines, another area where we collectively can do a better job on behalf of our clients relates to mailer-list owner meetings.
Brokers and managers often meet on behalf of their clients—and we should; it's why we get paid. However, no meetings are as productive as those which include the mailer and the list owner, discussions where each can speak candidly about its challenges and opportunities. Yet, here we are, in the 21st century and there are some list companies who purposely keep their clients away from such valuable discussions. You know, they wouldn't want to risk "losing" to the other side … don't want to share anything with the enemy. It's such an unfortunate and counter-productive mentality.
So, before you get too upset about reconciling another exchange balance or preparing one more report, think about the most recent round of layoffs at a major cataloger, the downsizing at a top publishing firm or further dot-com fall-out. Often, our "middle-man" roles are compared to that of real estate agents. Therefore, it's only appropriate that when you're asked what are the three most important aspects of the direct marketing industry, your answer should always be the mailer, the mailer and the mailer.
ED BOCKNIK is director of List Management Services of Direct Media, Inc. Bocknik joined Direct Media in September 1980 as an account executive in the firm's consumer list management group; in 1992 he was named head of DMI's Business-to-Business/High-Tech list management division. Today, he directs all list management and leads Direct Media's corporate marketing initiatives. You can reach Bocknik at (203) 532-2485 or by e-mail at email@example.com.